Eastleigh 0 FC Halifax Town 1.

EASTLEIGH pulled in their biggest crowd of the season of 3,323 and picked this, of all afternoons, to have a second-half stinker.

After stringing together five straight National League wins, the Spitfires saw their hopes of a sixth extinguished 1-0 by FC Halifax Town - James Ferry breaking their hearts with a 77th-minute winner.

The Spitfires stuck with an unchanged starting 11 from last week’s excellent 2-0 win at Salford, with Cav Miley and Ben Williamson returning to the matchday squad after suspension and injury respectively.

Halifax, beset by injuries, handed debuts to new frontline loan duo Manny Duku and Devante Rodney.

Although short on goals, the Shaymen have been a tough nut to crack at the other end, with five of their nine league games of 2019 ending 0-0.

The visitors, decked out in garish green shirts and shorts, took only a matter of seconds to get the game’s first shot away, but Salford loan man Rodney shot straight at Luke Southwood in the clubhouse end goal.

With Eastleigh’s game lacking intensity early on, the Shaymen registered the second shot on target too – Southwood flying to his right to save Matty Kosylo’s free-kick after Oscar Gobern had fouled James Hardy 20 yards out.

Ex-Saint Gobern quickly conceded another further out, this time following a challenge on Kosylo, and there were jeers all round the Silverlake as Kosylo ran over the ball, ready for a teammate to take the kick, only to discover there was no one behind him!

Eastleigh briefly roused themselves to force a corner, but Halifax defended Mark Yeates’s delivery well before conjuring up the best chance to date.

Duku barged past Alex Wynter on the right of the area before cutting the ball back to Hardy who hoisted a clear chance over.

Finally the Spitfires woke up their ideas as Chris Zebroski forced a corner on the left with the 20-minute mark approaching.

Yeates delivered a low outswinger from which Josh Hare’s first-time strike was turned away for another flag kick.

This time Yeates’ corner fell to Joey Jones whose effort was blocked and, as the ball came back out to the Irishman, his fierce follow-up was well kept out by the giant figure of Sam Johnson in the visitors' goal.

On 29 minutes the home crowd were crying out for a penalty when top scorer Paul McCallum looked to be clearly held amid a frantic spell of action in and around the Halifax box which had started with Zebroski having a shot blocked and ended with left wing-back Michael Green firing over from range.

Tempers flared on 31 minutes when Yeates went down in the area appealing for a trip by Niall Maher, but the referee awarded Halifax a free-kick instead and then booked a clearly displeased Yeates.

Gradually, though, the Spitfires were beginning to get to grips with awkward opposition and so nearly went ahead in the 36th minute when Yeates sent in a deep cross from the left which was smacked against the crossbar by the rising Zebroski.

The ball rebounded out to right wing-back Hare whose shot was cleared by the post for yet another Eastleigh corner.

With the Shaymen’s defence beginning to the feel the heat, Ryan Sellers miskicked inside his own area and as the ball looped up, Eastleigh skipper Danny Hollands’ volley smacked off a Halifax body for Spitfires corner number six.

Numbers seven and eight weren’t too far behind following another frenzied spell of action which had the home crowd shouting for ‘handball’ as Zebroski’s strike was blocked.

But Halifax – and their imposing No1 Johnson – were defending Yeates’s deliveries well.

Half-time: 0-0.

Halifax sent on striker Scott Quigley for Duku at the start of the second half and it needed positive work by Southwood to block the sub out after he had twisted and turned between two Eastleigh defenders.

Southwood was then quick off his line again to beat Rodney to a low ball through the heart of the Eastleigh rearguard.

With the game beginning to open up, Yeates ran into space down the right and sent a cross towards McCallum, but the 21-goal marksman headed his first chance of any note over.

Back came the Shaymen as Rodney this time popped up on the right of the area, but his first touch was heavy and his shot was comfortably gathered by Southwood.

Southwood did well again on 66 minutes when, concerningly for Eastleigh, Ferry all too easily slipped a pass through to Quigley in front of goal, but the on-loan Reading keeper boldly dived at his feet to snuff out the danger.

On 72 minutes the Spitfires were awarded a free-kick 20 yards out for Kosylo’s tug on Gobern, but set-piece maestro Yeates bent his effort over the crossbar as Eastleigh's frustration mounted.

That was to be Gobern’s last contribution as he and Zebroski made way for Williamson and Miley in 73rd minute.

As the game resumed, Halifax went close again as Kosylo burst into the box and drilled an effort wide.

Three minutes later visitors were at it again with Southwood launching himself to his right to push away Hardy’s shot.

Eastleigh were dicing with danger and were finally caught out on 77 minutes as the Shaymen seized a deserved lead.

The Spitfires fatally switched off after dealing with a long throw and sub Quigley rolled the ball across the area for FERRY to bury at the back stick.

Stunned, Eastleigh went back on the attack and there was real venom in Jones’s strike as he belted a thumping 35-yarder over.

With five minutes of normal time remaining Eastleigh withdrew Green, who was suffering with cramp, and sent on young Jack McKnight with their last roll of the dice.

But, alas for the Spitfires, it wasn’t to be their day and their last chance came and went when McCallum acrobatically sent Hare's inch-perfect cross just over the bar in time added on.

It left Eastleigh licking their wounds after slipping to their first home league defeat since Ben Strevens took caretaker charge against Aldershot on October 13.

Eastleigh: Luke Southwood, Josh Hare, Michael Green (Jack McKnight, 85), Andrew Boyce, Alex Wynter, Joey Jones, Oscar Gobern (Cav Miley, 73), Danny Hollands, Paul McCallum, Chris Zebroski (Ben Williamson, 73), Mark Yeates. Subs (not used): Ollie Dennett, Tom Bearwish.

Referee: Peter Gibbons.

Attendance: 3,323.